Archive for the ‘Sports’ Category

Shine On, Spring Break!

March 10, 2013

Back in 1980, when I was studying at Ball State University, the two main spring break destinations were Ft. Lauderdale and Daytona Beach. College students from across Indiana would flock to the sunshine state for sun and fun. However, my love for the outdoors combined with a keen sense of adventure overrode this natural instinct to migrate south that year. Instead, my friend Bruce and I made plans for a fishing trip to the back hills of Kentucky and Tennessee on Dale Hollow Lake. We had all of the ingredients for a successful trip — gas money, a boat, enough tackle to stock a retail store, and a lifetime of fishing experience. Notice I didn’t mention anything about money for food? We didn’t have any. The lack of money, we reasoned, would not be an obstacle. We would eat like kings for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, on the bounty we pulled from the lake. What fish wouldn’t want to be caught by two blindly ambitious eighteen-year-olds? The lake was full of fish and the world was at our feet.

The Ford LTD Station Wagon was jammed to the gills with fishing tackle and camping gear yet scarcely contained enough food to fill the glove compartment. No problem! We set off from Indianapolis to lose ourselves on the water and tame this giant reservoir. Nearing the lake we noticed that the countryside was dominated by simple homes. Seemingly forgotten for decades, these cabins lacking in paint had rusted tin roofs and cluttered front porches. They conjured up thoughts of the movie Deliverance. For two boys from the suburbs it was a culture shock. Surely, we naively thought, every cabin had a still on the property! The idea of buying a jar of moonshine to drink in the evening as we ate our catch became the topic of discussion. We stopped at a small country store that had a wood plank floor covering half the space and dirt covering the rest. We wondered out loud where we could buy some moonshine. How much could that stuff cost? Let’s ask the guy at the counter! Cutting our nonexistent food budget was the only way to afford some. So that’s just what we did, opting to purchase only a bag of potatoes, peanut butter, jelly, and bread. The potatoes, we reasoned, could be baked, fried, or diced and wrapped in foil with the fish adding diversity to our diet. Oil and foil we brought from home. Wisdom and his close friend common sense were left at home.

On day one we awoke before light. Full of energy and peanut butter we set out to conquer the lake while discussing the idea of stopping mid-day on some island for a shore lunch consisting of fried fish and potatoes. Arriving back at the campsite that night, our growling stomachs announced to the campground that we hadn’t eaten a shore lunch. Not one fish had been caught. Nothing too small, nothing that got away, not one hint of any aquatic dweller…turtles included. We fished from sun up to sun down without even a hint of a fish. The weather was great though, and as slumber came we were confident that day two would be different. Both days two and three ended in much the same way. By the end of the third day we were over the potatoes and peanut butter. It was time to find the fish. So we lit the lantern, opened the lake map and pored over it looking for a solution. Midway through day five we started discussing Plan B.

Finding someone selling moonshine had met with much the same fate. Every night we drove around in the dark looking for a cabin that had a moonshine vibe. (As if there would be some sort of rusted arrow pointing at the roof from the sky above with a sign that read…Get Your Corn Liquor Here!) The process went like this: Bruce would pull up to a shanty, let me out, I would walk up as if I were selling vacuums door to door and coyly ask if they knew of anyone selling sour mash. Sour was the look they gave me, and the conversation was over with the slam of the door. It didn’t bother me. I didn’t know them. In retrospect it was great training for both comedy (tough crowd…said like Rodney Dangerfield) and sales. In fact all sales people should have to do that as a rite of passage; if you actually talk your way into buying a jar then you are immediately promoted to director of sales!

As we drove further into this wild goose chase we continued talking about our empty stomachs. Small farms dotted the hillside. Farms have chickens we reasoned. I knew how to butcher chickens. My grandmother raised them and we butchered them every year. If we could find a chicken coop I’d sneak up, grab a chicken, wring its neck, throw it in the trunk and we would eat like kings… if kings stole chickens. As we rounded a curve we came across a big pig laying at the edge of the road — just a random pig…on a random gravel road…in the middle of nowhere. Bruce stopped the car and for a moment the two of us pondered the idea of butchering that pig. With our fillet knives. Thankfully that ridiculous idea was dismissed — as if stealing someone’s chicken wasn’t ridiculous.

Just beyond the pig we spied a chicken coop on the side of a hill between a barn and farmhouse. Our plan called for Bruce to stay in the car with the motor running and the lights off. I would sneak off to do the deed. Wearing denim from head to toe I was dressed for this covert operation…or a bluegrass festival. All was quiet as I crept up the hillside in the shadows. Slowly I snuck closer while listening for the sound of roosting hens. As I reached the door to the coop I was giddy with the thought that we were about to pull this off. The building was as weathered as the shanty homes. The door to the chicken house was on the side that faced away from the farmhouse. As I slowly opened it the hinges creaked. The silence was broken. Their dog started barking. Dog! Yes the dog! The chickens rustled and clucked in surprise. I quickly shut the door. My adrenalin spiked. The dog sounded big and he was on a mission to protect the farm. His bark was like a shot from a starter’s pistol. The race was on and I was off with a dog somewhere behind me. With the slope of the hill beneath my feet I ran like the wind so fast that I nearly ran out from under my legs. Unfortunately, I didn’t see the fence that separated the pasture from the barn area. Running full stride through the darkness I hit the fence at waist height and in an instant was flipped and hung up on the opposite side of the fence on the barbed wire that was strung across the top. Both of my arms were extended out in either direction from my body as if I were strung up on a cross. The sleeves of my denim jacket were trapped in the barbs. I struggled to break free. The dog was barking somewhere behind me. Suddenly Bruce was at my side helping to free me. He was laughing nervously having seen me run straight into the fence. How could I not see it, he wondered? It was plain to him, as he sat there comfortably in the car with nothing chasing him except the thought of flame-grilled chicken. Struggling to my feet I stumbled my way into the passenger side of the car and we sped off into the darkness with the lights still off, laughing. I never saw the dog. I never touched a chicken. We never ate meat the entire trip.

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Winter Olympics

February 16, 2010

I find the Winter Olympics more inspiring than the Summer Games by a land slide.  The beauty of the mountains, the snow, the ice, childhood dreams fulfilled.  Many of the sports seem to be games that kids made up and played long ago in their spare time after school. Like the luge, it’s sledding on steroids.  I remember daydreaming about being in that competition as a kid.  Since I lived in Indiana the day dreams were short because the hills aren’t very tall. Blink your eye and the fantasy is over and it’s time to walk back to the top of the hill for another brief ride.  We had a neighbor that lived on the top edge of a valley.  He had a sledding trail cut through the trees down the side of the valley’s edge.  The drop was steep enough the trees never came into play except to give it a more of an alpine feel.   No bank turns, no ninety mile per hour runs, nothing an energy drink would want to sponsor, but it kept us engaged for hours. 

Look at snow boarding, speed skating, down hill skiing, ice hockey, ski jumping.  Those are all sports that have kid ingenuity and fun written all over them.  Since kids will be kids they became competitive.  One thing led to another, parents got a hold of the idea, organized it, found support from local businesses and a cottage sport was born.  Then ABC’s Wide World of Sports found it or more recently, MTV, and the rest is history.  I think the only winter sport that didn’t evolve that way was curling.  That must have been invented by some grumpy old men who could no longer play hockey.  They liked the ice, they were still competitive, and they had cabin fever.  They told their wives they were going out to sweep the snow off the front porch.  One of their friends was ice fishing in the neighborhood pond.  They gathered down there to see if he was having luck.  It was cold.  The fish were frozen.  One old man pushed the frozen fish to the other with the broom and a sport was born.  Using fish wasn’t practical.  One of the old men was a stone carver, because that’s what they did before Wii was invented.  The rest is history.

Decades later their great grandkids grew to be successful business people who retired, moved to Florida, and invented Shuffle Board.

We have two ponds near our home.  Every winter we look forward to the days that are cold enough to freeze the ice to a safe thickness.  I drill a hole to test the ice and we skate outside in the evening.  That is inspiring.  The air is crisp, the stars are out, and the girls are laughing and acting goofy.  There is a freedom that comes with skating outdoors under the big sky.  The girls choreograph little performance pieces or we play tag.  They pretend they are tracking some type of alpine animal as they skate around.  We don’t talk about any of the pressures of life.  We just laugh, dream, and play in the winter night.  Those times are better than any of my childhood dreams.  Those are a few hours of perfection in our busy time that I carry in my heart.  We relive them as we watch skating in the Olympics.  The hours of dedication it takes to nurture your passion.   The childhood dream realized and the tears shed on the podium during the medal presentation.  Pride, passion, dedication, we live it every day as the girls train for ballet.  It’s nice to see examples of how that hard work pays off.  Their tears are real and their emotion is pure, as pure as childhood fun that is found on a frozen pond at night or in the daydreams of a boy, in a sled, on a small hill in Indiana.

The Boys of Fall

September 26, 2009

About 6 years ago I was raking leaves in the fall when a pack of boys Carly’s age came walking down the street tossing a football.  I heard my mom’s voice, “Please play touch. No one needs to get hurt.”  The truth is any time a group of boys get together someone may get hurt.  It has nothing to do with sports.  If there are five boys in a room full of feathers one of them could end up with a quill sticking out of his eye.  We played touch if the game was up near the house where parents could see.  We always played with three rules.  Defense had a five apple rush and no blitzes.  The offense couldn’t use running plays.  Running plays led to an endless string of touchdowns which took all of the challenge and fun out of the game.  A five apple rush is this; you have to count out loud, one apple, two apple, three apple, four apple, five apple, before you rush the quarterback.  It made up for no blocking.  Those are really universal rules for any sand lot game, any where in the country.  The count may change from apples to Mississippi’s, but everything else is the same.

Playing football in a house full of ballerinas just doesn’t happen.  My girls love to watch it, but that is where it ends.  I felt the need to get grass stained and sweaty.  When they made it to our yard I said, “Are you done playing or going to play?”  They said, “Waiting on some other guys before we play.”  I really wanted to play. I went straight for the justification. I can rake these leaves Monday evening. So I said,” Come get me if you need another player.”  One of them said, “Mr Phelps, you’re funny”.  I said, “Seriously, come get me if you need another guy.”  They never showed.  The following week there were even more of them walking down the street with football in hand.  Again I was raking.  Again I felt the tugging of childhood. So I threw out the offer…again.  They stopped, “Seriously?”  I said, “Yeah!  I wouldn’t offer if I was kidding.”  “OK Mr. Phelps we’ll call you before we play”. They agreed just because they are nice.  I had just finished raking when my wife came outside saying, “Some boys from the neighborhood want to know if you can come down and play football?”  She thought it was cute.  I thought it was cool.  I’ve known them since they were in preschool.  Now they were old enough I didn’t have to worry about hurting anyone.  On my way out the door she said, “Honey, please don’t play tackle.”  It had come full circle. 

Our neighborhood has a creek that runs along one border.  The homes that line that creek have perfect back yards for football.  I walked down there wearing a T-shirt about ballet, jeans, and tennis shoes.  I wasn’t even thinking about it.  That’s what I was wearing to rake leaves.  They were all dressed in NFL jerseys and athletic shorts.  I could tell by the looks it was like showing up wearing black socks and dress shoes.  Half the kids were from our neighborhood and the other half were school friends who rode their bikes or were dropped off by parents.  I think our neighborhood kids were embarrassed.   “Ballet shirt?  Jeans?”  Wisdom taught me that at this stage of my life, Russian Pointe shoes at $85.00 a pop, are a better investment than a Polamalu jersey.  I was picked last.  Truth be told I was picked at all because they felt sorry for me.  The dad who lived there came out and tried to convince me not to play.  He was permanently on the “Physically unable to perform” list.  Said another way, he was too old to play.   He wanted me to be too.  He tried to talk the kids into making me the all time quarterback so I wouldn’t get hurt.  I knew him.  I like him.  I said, “Bill I’m not ready for the wrinkle ranch.  I came down here to have fun.”  He mumbled, “Make sure you guys play touch,” and went back inside.  I had a blast.  Mr Ballerina shirt could still play ball.  They saw me as something more than a stale dad.  I came home dirty, wet with sweat, the knees ripped out of my jeans, and the feeling of youth in my heart.  It sounds funny, but I was happy to be accepted.  I hadn’t been one of the guys, since college.  Carly thought it was funny.  They talked about it on the way to school Monday.  “Your dad can play!”  From that point forward I was on the list.  Friday night we went to the high school football games and every Sunday the phone rang.  My wife would answer, smile, and say, “The boys want to know if you can play.”  For the last five years we played.  This year it ended.  Most of them have responsibilities that come with getting older.   Others went in a less productive direction.  For a while I was given a second chance at childhood, another opportunity to be one of the boys.  It was cool.

football

Scheduling the Week

September 12, 2009

I had a friend contact me last week with a business proposal.  It was a great idea, but he’s got more drama in his life than a collection of ER’s greatest hits.  With the girls back in school and ballet training every night our schedule is more choreographed than a Dance Kaleidoscope  show rehearsal.   Dealing with the drama of the day is not on my to-do list.

I need to make sure everything is organized so nothing gets overlooked.  Our dinners and the girls dance schedule are posted on the fridge Sunday evening for the week ahead.  That morning I plan the meals over coffee.  Then I go grocery shopping.  I know what we need which saves time and money.  My grocery list is built with the flow of the store in mind.  It saves time and makes shopping easy.  Then I compulsively wash my hands 50 times like Jack Nicholson in As Good As It Gets.  Not really, but I sound like I have a compulsive disorder.  I should wash my hands after shopping though with H1N1 lurking around every corner.  Those shopping carts are probably a breading ground for the flu, scabies, and five kinds of flesh eating bacteria…sleep well tonight!  Any way, I hit Costco for the big stuff and Meijer for the other stuff.  I could take the easy way out.  We could do carry-out every night.  I have two problems with that…actually three.  (1) We live on a budget and carry-out is way more expensive than cooking.  (2) We need to eat healthy.  My girls are athletes and I like my fruits and veggies.  Carry-out is…bad.  Just shoot a wad of butter in my veins and toss the dirt over my head (3) Leftover’s make a great low cost lunch and I like them.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to choke anything down just to save money.  I like cooking and leftovers. 

If you haven’t figured it out yet I have a type “A” personality.  Numbering, lists, scheduling…where’s my coffee?!  Seriously though, we as a family and a society need to eat healthy and stick to a budget.  Financial crisis…hello!  Health crisis….we’re fat!  I was thinking about this when I walked into Meijer last Sunday.  The first seven adults I saw had a combined mass slightly greater than the state of Texas make that Tex-ass.  Obviously they were all passing the produce section in search of the breaded, frozen, fried cheese sticks and dip. 

Each morning I make breakfast and lunch for the girls, ride my bike (see my last blog) exercise (me time), and start working.  At lunch I make dinner for the girls then go back to work.  Carly gets home from school at 3:30.  She grabs their dinner, & snack then leaves to pick up Grace at 4:00 and head to Jordan.   They start dancing at 4:30 and that usually goes to 9:00.  So they need to take dinner.  While they are at dance I work until about 7:00.  Then I clock out and hit our veggie garden, other yard work, or other domestic stuff.  When they get home it’s time to hit the books.  I write my blog or unwind with them until 10:00.  So you see I have no time for someone else’s drama.  It just drags you down.  At some point I call my wife to catch up with her, tell her fun stuff like I was hit on at the grocery …by a guy.  That wasn’t on my to-do list either.  At forty-eight years old I’m flattered that anyone is attracted to me, but if I had my choice I’d rather be propositioned in the produce section by a well educated woman who snuck home to surprise her husband with fresh strawberries and candles. That would be great, sadly it’s not on my to-do list either…until this weekend.  She didn’t buy the strawberries or candles I did.  Some times it’s good to lose the list, unplug the clock, and let the people you love know they are appreciated.

The Morning Ride

September 10, 2009

This summer I vowed to change the way I start my mornings.  I would drink coffee and watch the News.  At first it was a way to get the weather forecast.  Then it became cups of coffee while hearing about murders, stabbings, robberies, and the weather forecast.  Based on the headlines, regardless of the weather it’s always gloomy on the east side of Indy.  After eight years of that routine it dawned on me…call me a slow learner… I was not getting an uplifting start to my day.

Now I sit on the porch and have coffee and feel the morning vibe.  Then I ride.  My bike is not one of the fancy, Lance Armstrong Super Dee Duper bikes.  It’s a touring bike with a spring seat!  I like the spring.  It has some obnoxious number of gears, like eighteen.  Who needs eighteen gears, aside from truckers?  I use five or six.  I wear a helmet.  I don’t like to.  My wife worked in the Neurology unit of a hospital.  Basically she scared/guilt tripped me into wearing it.  As a kid I jumped off a million ramps on my stingray and never needed a helmet.  None of my friends suffered brain injuries as the result of a bike wreck.  Apparently there are plenty of people who are now permanently drooling on themselves because they weren’t wearing one.  So for my wife and family I wear one. 

The neighborhoods around us are quiet.  I can ride for miles on streets lined with big trees, no traffic, and no pack of Lance Armstrong pretenders with the fancy bike, matching uniform, and attitude.  Sorry if you are one of those guys.  Actually I’m not sorry.  I have been stuck behind you in my car for miles because you don’t get out of the middle of the road.  You may not be a jerk, but you come across as one.  I’m not saying you don’t deserve part of the road.  I am saying you don’t deserve all of it.    Do you really need the uniform to train for what ever tour de jour?  Do you really have sponsors to ride your bike in traffic?  I wear a t-shirt, shorts, and tennis shoes.  I work up a sweat.  I feel great when I’m done.  I stay balanced.  Granted my t-shirt material flaps in the breeze like Ruth Gordon’s triceps, but that’s OK.  I’m not trying to sit on the pole for the Hilly Hundred.  If you were smart your sponsors would be companies who specialize in stress relief because the line of motorists who are stuck behind you have plenty of time to read the ads, over and over and over, until they find enough room to pass you.  They are stressed…thanks to YOU!  Did I get off topic? Sorry.  Did I make my point?  Hope so.

They just started doing road work in one of the neighborhoods I ride through.  I feel judged the minute I ride by the collection of construction workers all huddled together.  “Helmet?  What a dork!  Don’t get hurt!” I know that’s what they are thinking. 

Today I decided to cross the main road and hit another network of older neighborhoods.  I encountered my first Armstrong clone.  We were both stopped waiting for the traffic to clear before crossing.  He looked me up and down and then focused…on being the best bike rider of the morning…or what ever it is they think about.  Once the traffic cleared I went straight across.  He did some type of big sweeping motion, banking right and then swooping onto the road effectively putting him behind me.  “Is he drafting,” I wondered?  Then I thought about blocking him, giving him a dose of his own medicine.  Making him read my, Led Zeppelin World Tour 1972 t-shirt, for miles until I turn off the road.  That’s right Led Zeppelin sponsors my morning ride.  So do Folgers and Bayer…they are more like silent sponsors.  I blocked him for about 20 yards before moving out into the center of the road to let him pass.  He begrudgingly thanked me, and then kicked it into gear number nineteen.  The kid in me thought, “I may not look cool, but I’m drinking milk…”  The adult in me thought, “I need to blog about him”

“The” Coach

August 6, 2009

I drove past my old little league football fields yesterday evening while running errands.  The kids were out there in pads running though their drills.  It brought back a life time of memories.  I had one coach from the time I was six to thirteen.  His name was Charles Dinwiddie.  Coach Dinwiddie was part Bear Bryant, part Woody Hayes.  He always had total command of the team.  He was big on rules.  He was tough.  He yelled, he taught, he led, he inspired, and he worked us until we were dripping wet with exhaustion.  He developed a complete team who was in shape, fundamentally sound, and played with heart.  We won the championship every year.  If he coached little league football in 2009 the moms would fire him before he had the chance to win his first game because of his on field persona.   

If you were late, you had to run.  We were eight years old.  We didn’t drive to practice.  That didn’t matter.   I remember moms and dad’s trying to assume the blame.  They tried the whole time their kid was running.  I don’t mean running a lap around the football field.  I mean you had to run to the other end of the park and back.  When you made it back you’d better be ready to play. 

When he was mad he used your name as an expletive. Phelps! “God Bless America, Phelps!”  That was his way of avoiding the big cuss words.  When you heard God Bless America, followed by your name, there was no parade in your honor and it wasn’t the 4th of July.  There was a good chance you would be circling something on as distant planet or extra calisthenics.  “I don’t know why you have a hustle problem today Phelps!  Have a brief conversation with that tree and make sure the problem is solved before you get back!”  Which tree the one on Oklahoma?  Never ever say that.  Just run around the tree and get back to the team. “Now, get in there and knock someone’s jock strap up on the line!”  That was one of his favorite sayings.  God Bless America Phelps knock him out of his jock or you’re gonna circle that tree”!  I’d hit anyone to avoid circling the tree again… Mother Teresa is going down if she is between me and the ball. 

I was quarterback and defensive back.  I was allowed to call my own plays.  One time in a scrimmage I called a killer play.  It was before anyone high fived, but I did something to let the team know that we just kicked butt.  He saw it.  He ran out and grabbed me and ran me to the goal post.  My arms and legs we twirling like a garden whirly bird.  He grabbed the belt of my football pants and my helmet and raised me so I could see the cross bar of the goal post, “This is where you score….not back there.  Do you see it?  Get a good look at it!  Now, you see the rings on Saturn?  Continue running!”  I never celebrated like that again.  He wasn’t a total dictator.  He knew where to draw the line.  I saw him smile a lot.  I know he loved us for who we were and what we meant to him.  I know what he means to me.  He taught me just how hard you have to work to be the best.    As I saw those kids in pads with giant helmets half the size of their body I wanted to reach out to them.  We went undefeated, untied, and unscored on, the last year he was my coach.  I continued to play sports in school, but I never had another coach like him.  I apply his lessons to my business and to my girls and their dreams.  They don’t have to circle trees, unless their cutting the grass.  They realize I understand what it takes to be successful because of the way I help guide their decisions and future plans.  Dinwiddie’s voice is one of the few who still guides me.  I wish he were still around so I could thank him.